The rise of the Nones is one of the most discussed features of contemporary American religion. Most Nones are not atheists or agnostics. Rather, they are unaffiliated believers who follow their own spiritual paths. Often, those paths involve a kind of pantheism. Although mass-market pantheism is definitely of our own time, an elite pantheism has been part of American religious culture since at least the Transcendentalists. A new book from the University of Chicago Press, The Delight Makers: Anglo-American Metaphysical Religion and the Pursuit of Happiness, by scholar Catherine Albanese (UC-Santa Barbara) explores the phenomenon. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
An ambitious history of desire in Anglo-American religion across three centuries.
The pursuit of happiness weaves disparate strands of Anglo-American religious history together. In The Delight Makers, Catherine L. Albanese unravels a theology of desire tying Jonathan Edwards to Ralph Waldo Emerson to the religiously unaffiliated today. As others emphasize redemptive suffering, this tradition stresses the “metaphysical” connection between natural beauty and spiritual fulfillment. In the earth’s abundance, these thinkers see an expansive God intent on fulfilling human desire through prosperity, health, and sexual freedom. Through careful readings of Cotton Mather, Andrew Jackson Davis, William James, Esther Hicks, and more, Albanese reveals how a theology of delight evolved alongside political overtures to natural law and individual liberty in the United States.